The recent stories and revelations that have surfaced about Ellen and The Ellen DeGeneres Show first appeared to be about a lapse in internal brand management. But it might be a brand failure on a larger scale. Bad press can be damaging to any brand, but in this case, it may be more damaging than most.
In early April, Ellen made an insensitive joke comparing being home during the quarantine to being in jail. That comment elicited an abundance of backlash. This incident was followed shortly by a story in Variety in which her show crew complained about the lack of communication from management regarding their work hour and pay status in the early days of the pandemic. In July, allegations of mistreatment of former staff members surfaced in the press. These complaints included claims of a toxic workplace environment, bullying and racial discrimination. And sexual misconduct by executive producers.
Since then, a pile-on on Twitter and in other spaces has ensued and seems to continue almost daily. Ellen has been portrayed in a less than positive light by former show guests, audience members, and people with whom she’s had random encounters. In some cases, she’s been accused of rudeness. In other stories, staffers shared they were required to leave a room if she walked into it.
To be sure, she has fans and friends who have weighed in with their support. Ellen has created a lot of good will over the years. She’s known for it. One example among many: She partnered with Cheerios to promote “One Million Acts of Good.” One million dollars was subsequently shared amongst a studio audience comprised of individuals who had done memorable deeds for others.
Internal Brand Management Key to Delivering on Brand Promise
Building a great brand in any business category is the responsibility of everyone in an organization. It starts with the CEO and includes every manager and employee down the line. Each individual must understand their role in bringing the brand to life. For that to happen, an organization must build internal brand development processes as well as those that are external in focus. The internal development builds company culture, the external facing improves the customer experience.
Delivering on a brand promise only happens when top executives are committed to brand building on a consistent basis. Brand building is a process, so it needs ongoing attention and cultivation. In this instance, we consider Ellen the CEO, so it’s her responsibility to see the brand is brought to life both internally and externally.
Ellen has mastered the external experience customers have with her brand with few exceptions. In this case, that experience would be that of her studio and TV viewing audiences. It might include sponsors. But it appears that internal brand management has been largely ignored if there’s truth and substance to the charges that have been made. Eventually, when the internal brand experience isn’t a good one, it will impact the external brand. Negative press can erode a brand, in this case, viewership and sponsor support.
The CEO is the Chief Executive of Brand Management
For the most part, the charges from employees are directed at show producers, not Ellen. However, if managers, in this case, the executive producers, didn’t understand the importance of their role in living her brand, then Ellen is to blame. On the other hand, if they knew the importance of their role, and failed to execute on their responsibilities, then Ellen is also to blame for not demanding more accountability.
Or, if Ellen was so out of touch that she was unaware of the undercurrent of issues that were brewing in her organization, that’s a huge miss. Ellen is ultimately responsible for her brand. Ignorance does not provide an excuse. To her credit, she has apologized to her staffers for the show not living up to her hopes that it would be a place of happiness and that everyone would be treated with respect. She has committed to correcting the issues.
Expectations Have Changed
The public today has a higher expectation of what corporate responsibility means. Today it includes attitudes and actions related to the environment, society, and employees. Ellen’s previous and current staffers had easier access to the press to complain than would employees at most organizations. But in our Post – #MeToo social media world, it is easy to bring any bad actors to the public eye. The message is clear and the pressure is on: organizations need to create healthy and safe workplace environments for all employees. How did the producers on Ellen’s team, people on the cutting edge of culture, miss that?
Successful and Valuable Brands Have Distinction
With a 17-year run to date, The Ellen DeGeneres Show is the number 3 talk show in syndication, according to USA Today. Over years, Ellen and her team have built strong brands for both the show and for her as an individual.
What makes a brand successful? The most critical attribute common to any successful brand is that is has distinction. Those are the qualities that make a brand unique. It might be the offering, or possibly the packaging or personality. Or it might be the experience the consumer has with the brand that make it distinct and drive its value.
Consider the work of research giant Kantar on the subject of brand value. Kantar and WPP, a multi-national communications and advertising company, recently released their “2020 BrandZ Global 100 Report.” In the comprehensive 400 page report the authors state that Difference is a key driver of a strong and valuable brand.
In fact, “Difference emerged as the most important factor determining which brands increased or decreased in value in the 2020 BrandZ Global Top 100.” Additionally, Kantar says, “Difference is based on perceptions that the brand ‘sets the trends’ and is ‘different from others’ in the category.”
Ellen’s Unique Positioning
How does Difference pertain to Ellen and her show? One could argue that the most defining hallmark of Ellen’s brand distinction is the “nice” factor. For the most part, her on-air persona is projected as friendly, upbeat, warm, and caring and fulfills that claim. That claim has driven her brand identity.
When a brand makes a statement about its distinction, such as “nice” or “kind”, it separates itself from its competitors. That statement defines its unique value proposition that no other brand in the category can claim. That brand promise becomes something that consumers expect every time they experience or interact with the brand. No other talk show host uses those points of distinction, only Ellen.
Additionally, the challenges that Ellen experienced in earlier days of her career as the first gay actor in a prime-time sitcom are well-known. Over the years, people have admired Ellen because she ‘set the trends’ and is ‘different from others’ as noted by the Kantar report. These characteristics have helped drive value for Ellen’s brand. These early experiences may be at the heart of the words in her show close, “be kind to one another.” They may also have fueled the generosity she has shown over the years to her studio audiences and many charities.
What Happens When a Brand Loses the Distinction that Defined It?
A brand is judged by the evidence that supports the claim of distinction it has made. If a brand does not or cannot show evidence of the distinction, the claim is simply a wish.
Should the allegations that have been asserted by former employees turn out to be true, and other not-so-nice stories continue to be reported, then the brand has a bigger challenge than other organizations dealing with workplace issues. If these recent stories are factual, they challenge the core of what is uniquely Ellen and her brand. In fact, they illustrate characteristics that are the antithesis of nice. If “nice” and “kind” turn out not to be real, the brand loses its authenticity. Ellen loses her authenticity.
For any individual or brand to be authentic, words and actions must match stated beliefs and values. When words and deeds are not consistent with each other, then people, whether fans or employees, doubt the message. Eventually, trust will be eroded. Trust is a critical component of any relationship, but particularly, one that leaders have with others. Trust is the foundational building block of any organization’s culture.
Charting the Next Steps Towards Realignment
WarnerMedia has hired a team to investigate the workplace issues. Work on set in Hollywood is known to be grueling. How does this situation compare? The team will assess what complaints are merited and take corrective action. Certainly, new producers can be put in place who have a better grip on the role they need to play as leaders and brand managers within the organization. Ellen’s apology and commitment to fix the problems are a good start. But included must be a strong internal brand management process that will rebuild staff engagement and belief in her brand.
Ellen’s track record over the years would indicate that she can probably find the tools and team to get her brand back on track. But getting the staff and public’s experience of the brand back in alignment with the promise is what must happen. Authenticity matters.
As an agency with a focus on brand building, BrandSavants uses tools that help our clients determine whether their brands are in alignment with their brand promise. We can help address the challenges when they are not, in order to build strong internal brand management processes.
Until recently, many brands only posted about their support for social issues during awareness months like Black History or Pride. Then, amid a high level of social unrest, brands felt pressured to post statements of solidarity and display black boxes on their Instagram accounts. Some were applauded for it and others criticized. That’s because black boxes and statements without action are useless. But one brand we can all learn from about how to make a difference is Ben & Jerry’s. Here’s how they lead the way making social issues an integral part of their brand to effect change.
Being a B Corp
Ben & Jerry’s is a certified B Corp, (Benefit Corporation), which means they place their social mission at the same level of importance as creating and selling their products, balancing purpose and profit. Becoming a B Corp is no easy task. A company needs to satisfy a stringent set of standards to achieve the certification and must be committed to using their business, and voice, to solve social and environmental issues.
Social justice is deeply embedded in the Ben & Jerry’s brand. As stated in their mission, “we create linked prosperity for everyone that’s connected to our business: suppliers, employees, farmers, franchisees, customers, and neighbors alike.” Ben & Jerry’s doesn’t use high-profile issues to get attention and drive sales. Instead, they use their brand to bring attention to these issues and advocate for change creatively, which is why they are so darn good at what they do.
Flavors that Made a Difference
What’s more fun than eating ice cream named after your favorite band or TV show? Arguably, the names of Ben & Jerry’s pints are just as good as the flavors they pack inside. Famous for flavors with clever pop culture references, such as Cherry Garcia, The Tonight Dough, and Phish Food, Ben & Jerry’s has been successful at creating clever names to support social causes as well. Over the years, they have released flavors to support all types of issues such as climate change, marriage equality, a fair democracy, refugees, and racial justice. Flavors like Justice Remixed, Empowermint, Save our Swirled, Home Sweet HoneyComb, One Sweet World, and I Dough, I Dough were created with the mission to raise awareness, and money, for organizations that fight the good fight, but they don’t stop there. They encourage customers to join in by signing petitions, going to rallies, and joining grassroot campaigns. These inspired flavors not only represent the best ice cream in the world, they represent what Ben & Jerry’s is doing to change the world.
Social Media Posts for a Greater Good
Ben & Jerry’s uses their social media platforms to push for progressvie change regarding society’s most pressing issues. While many brands dance around these issues to avoid backlash, more often than not, Ben & Jerry’s meets them head on. And we’re not talking about a casual retweet, black box or reposting an article. Ben & Jerry’s develops original graphics and blogs to address these issues, proving that they are authentic. They tweet about issues like, the school-to-prison pipeline, why prosecutors are so important to this year’s election, the fact that climate change is here, and finally, why taking a stand against Facebook is so important. Ben & Jerry’s not only seeks to cultivate a company and culture that supports these issues with conviction, they want to influence a generation to follow in their footsteps and fight for meaningful change.
Ben & Jerry’s has something for everyone, but if you can’t find a flavor you like, you’re sure to find an issue you can get behind. Because getting one more person to care, matters. If your brand doesn’t have a clear purpose, make it a priority. Tag can help.
The punch list for starting a company always includes vision, mission and value statements that express the intent and underlying beliefs of the organization. Rarely does the punch list include the brand position – but it should. Here’s why.
Whereas the first three statements reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of the founders to build something, they do not address how the company will differentiate itself competitively. That is the job of the brand position and it is a major reason the brand needs to be a part of the corporate strategy from day one.
In my work as a business consultant, I often get involved with companies who are at a crossroads about their identity. They have outgrown the original focus, merged with other entities, expanded into new markets, or otherwise made changes that cloud the picture of who they are.
Often times, the brand development process provides so much clarity of purpose, the company subsequently writes or rewrites its vision and mission statements so everything points in the same direction. That is a clear sign the brand position needs to be the fourth mandatory corporate statement for managing a business and creating a strong culture.
The Four Essential Corporate Statements
Most of us are familiar with vision, mission and value statements, but it can be a little unclear how yet another corporate statement – the brand position – might fit in. So here is a brief description of each type of statement and how it relates to the brand:
The most effective vision statement presents a description of the world as it would exist if the organization were to succeed in achieving its grandest aspirations. It is inspirational, clear, memorable and concise. And it helps give the brand meaning and purpose.
Mission statements can be duller than a prehistoric kitchen knife if you let them. It’s no wonder they rarely make a public appearance once written. But, at its best, a mission statement is an effective expression of an organization’s reason for existence and provides the story behind the brand.
The values are principles that define how employees will conduct business as they pursue the vision and execute the mission. Companies that actively promote, discuss and reinforce their values internally create a culture that is capable of delivering brand promise to the market.
The brand position defines the organization’s distinction in the market – its competitive edge. It is the only one of the four statements that is driven by market needs and competitive differentiation, so having it is critical to the success of the organization.
Case Study: Tesla
Tesla is an interesting example because has evolved its business strategy in pursuit of its brand. It turns out that building the ultimate electric car brand involves a significant investment in the solar power and battery storage technology businesses. Here are how their four corporate statements inspire Tesla’s purpose and build the brand:
Tesla’s vision is to create a world without carbon emission vehicles. Is this achievable? It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that people who share that vision believe it is something worth pursuing.
Tesla originally intended to eliminate carbon emission vehicles by accelerating “the world’s transition to sustainable transport”. In 2016, the company replaced the word “transport” with “energy” to reflect their how the development of battery technology and solar power were critical to the mission. Both support the brand but reflect the evolving strategy for getting there.
“Move fast. Do the impossible. Constantly innovate. We are ALL IN.” These are just four of the six corporate values that help employees understand how they need to approach their jobs to make the company successful. All the Tesla values are infused with energy and passion for the cause. That makes for an inspired brand.
“An electric car without compromises.” It’s beautiful. It’s fast. It’s clean. And the constant flow of customer data is driving further innovation. No other company is as focused on this goal as Tesla.
The Brand Position is Essential
The essence of the Brand Establishment philosophy is the brand strategy is a required element of corporate success. No matter the size of company, industry, or business model.
By adding the brand position as the fourth essential corporate statement, organizations will not only be able to define what drives them but will also be able to pinpoint what will help them win. After all, isn’t that why you are in business?
Certified Brand Strategist
The name for your company, big or small, could make or break you. And how you name your products and services could help or hinder your ability to grow. Picking a name for a business / product / service can be the most challenging yet exciting thing you do. But how do you know if your name is right?
First, let’s talk about brand. When deciding on a name for your company, think about your company’s brand. Does that name fit your company’s goals? Attitudes? Values? Business Plan? Mission? Vision?
As Certified Brand Strategists, we believe a company’s brand should be defined by what makes that company unique. A company’s uniqueness could be its employees, services, products, etc. It is about who you are, not just about what you do. Products change and so does your company’s focus, so make sure that your name can grow with the organization.
Create a list and begin to rate them against each other. Here are some quick questions to ask:
- Does it relate to your uniqueness or products?
- Does it sound and look good?
- Does it separate your company from your competitors?
- Does is celebrate your mission?
- Can you explain it easily and is it memorable?
- Does it inspire and create connections?
- Does it establish value?
Your name should differentiate your company in the marketplace, celebrate your uniqueness and begin to build your brand. The right name can help you connect with customers, and set you up for success. Therefore, choosing the right name to build your brand around is extremely vital and a huge step in creating a successful business.
Your name is the first step in building your brand, it is your personality and you have to embrace it fully so that your can fearlessly live your brand every day.
Naming doesn’t stop there. How do you begin to name your products and services?
First, your business and brand strategy have to align. You could name your products like Apple: iPhone, iPad, iMac or like P&G: Tide, Swiffer, Crest. And there are many other types of architecture. Each has its merits but both align themselves to the business and brand strategy of the parent company.
Apple’s products all support the overarching Apple brand. All the products live the central brand experience of Apple. iPhone can not stand by itself but needs the Apple brand to be relevant.
P&G and it’s family of brands is set up differently. Each brand stands on its own. Each brand supports the portfolio of P&G but it’s allows each brand to establish specific and targeted audiences separate from the overarching brand. P&G can buy, create or sell brands in it’s portfolio to make it’s business stronger.
These are questions you have to ask. Should each product have it’s own brand? Should they be generic names? How close should they relate to the company name? The solution? A strong brand strategy founded on the uniqueness of each product and a well-defined brand architecture that provided clarity, leveraged brand equity and made a meaningful connection with customers and stakeholders.
How do you get there? Start by asking these questions:
- What differentiates each of your products – what are its unique value propositions and the evidence to support your claims?
- Are the different brands and sub-brands in your portfolio sufficiently differentiated from one another?
- Do your customers understand the differentiation?
- How does each of your products relate to and support each other?
- How does each product relate to the corporate brand?
- How does each product support the company’s goals?
- How well do the existing brands support the corporate positioning and company name?
- Is your brand portfolio greater than the sum of its parts?
Since brands and their strategies can’t be developed in a vacuum, use consumer research and insights, competitive analyses, market insights and your understanding of your company’s business goals when you think about your responses. Remember, it all starts with discovering your differentiation. That’s the foundation for all of your brand strategies and architecture – and the messaging and creative tactics that follow.
Darcy Zehe is a Certified Brand Strategist and Chief Operating Officer and Matthew Blazer is a Certified Brand Strategist and Chief Creative Officer at BrandPivot. He leads a team to develop brand strategy, direction and creative execution, and she oversees the client’s projects and directs the agency operations.
Your Brand is the essence of who you are. Your Brand is what distinguishes you from your competition. Your Brand offers a distinct set of promises to your customers. And, the performance of your Brand—what it actually delivers—is the single most important asset that your Brand will ever possess. A strong performing Brand—a Brand that is tightly aligned with its Brand promises—is like manna from Brand heaven.
I often get asked, how does that happen…that Promise + Performance thing? How do great Brands do it? Where does their Brand mojo come from? Quite simply, strong Brands stand for something. They are constant, consistent, and deliberate in their actions.
So, how do strong Brands get there? It requires an introspective dive into the innermost reasons of why you exist. It is truly discovering and understanding your distinction, your UVP’s (Unique Value Promises), and then using those promises to drive your performance and create a master plan for how your distinction will be communicated.
Recently I was in a meeting with the Leadership Team of our long-time client Pekin Insurance, a regional P&C/Life carrier we have worked with for six decades. A half a dozen years ago, Hult guided Pekin through a Brand Development initiative, during which time the company’s distinction was codified as: Pekin Insurance goes Beyond the Expected® for their independent agents and policyholders. In this recent meeting, their CEO, Scott Martin, received an email from a member of their management team updating him on an initiative that was in its final stages.
The manager proudly reported on the status of the efforts of his team. He summarized, in some detail, that the sum total of their efforts that had lead this point “lives true to Pekin’s Brand promise to go Beyond the Expected®” and then went on to describe how the anticipated performance of the efforts individually matched up to each and every one of the Pekin Insurance Brand Values that they had adopted as part of their Brand Development process. Wow.
Promise + Performance. Pekin’s Brand Development process unearthed the previously unspoken promise on which the company had built on nearly a century of success. During the discovery phase of our engagement, we heard testimonials that spoke clearly to the company’s unwavering commitment to consistently and constantly go Beyond the Expected®.
As a Certified Brand Strategist (CBS), we use key insights and a wide-range of Brand Discovery methodologies to help our clients discover the truth that lives within their Brand. At the very core, we seek clarity and internal alignment by asking questions in and around these 4 key insights:
Who you are today
It is important to start this process by establishing this baseline. We begin with the leadership team to unearth the multitude of facts about an organization and discover “what you do and how you do it”. By eliminating the facts that do not set you apart, we can find what is truly unique to you. This comes from how you live your Brand every day, and from the stories told by the leadership team, management, staff, and customers.
What you do differently
Discovering what you do differently will set you apart from your competitors, and help customers choose you. Your Claim of Distinction is the combination of tangible and intangible characteristics that make your Brand unique. It’s what consumers think and feel when they interact with your Brand. It’s you, it’s your employees—it’s not your logo.
As a Certified Brand Strategist, I focus my team on helping organizations discover and create strategies to help them continue to advance their distinction in the marketplace. The Brand Establishment is an important part of that process. As the only Brand Strategy Certification body in North America, they focus on Brand like no other organization.
Once your Claim of Distinction is discovered, we work with your organization to ensure it is backed with Evidence of Performance—actually being what you claim to be by living it out every day and clearly communicating it to customers. When this happens, you build trust and Brand loyalty with your customers.
Why you do what you do
Your organization’s “why” is the reason you wake up every morning to do what you do. It’s the true emotion behind your Brand. When you start your Brand Development process by discovering your “why”, it will transform the way your organization views your Brand and will build distinction amongst your competitors.
What you are capable of becoming
Focus inward and align your Business Strategy with your Brand Strategy and your People Strategy. When your organization’s culture backs up the value you are communicating on a daily basis, it provides evidence to customers and builds trust—leading to Brand loyalty. And, it gives your organization to launch forward into even greater endeavors. You use your strong truthful roots (not hype) to build your Brand story for the future. Powerful stuff!
Building your Brand Distinction is important. If you focus on clarity and alignment around these 4 key insights, you will be heading in the right direction. Once your organization can encompass the value of your distinction, it will transform the way you and your team, at every level, view your Brand. And, it will make for a more powerful performance of your Brand. Giddy up.
Hear a story of Brand performance directly from a Pekin Insurance policyholder, Claims Adjuster and Independent of how the Pekin Insurance came through during a catastrophic event and performed Beyond the Expected.
President/CEO | Certified Brand Strategist | Speaker
Empowering Brand Momentum®
Brand development is a process that, when properly executed, can produce results that drive both top and bottom line expectations inside the c-suite, AND better position your company in the minds of your customers.
However, conditions must be right (notice I didn’t say perfect) in order for your new brand building venture to be successful. Before you begin, you need to get real and ask yourself these five important questions.
1. Do You Have Total Buy-In From Everyone in the C-Suite?
If the CEO, CMO, and CFO don’t believe in the branding process and the tangible financial outcomes, you’ll never get it off the ground. Brand development is something that needs to start from the top. It’s a culture change. Everyone in the company needs to know how important the process is, and only the CEO can make that crystal clear.
2. Do You Know Why Your Brand Matters, or Should Matter in the Eyes of the Customers?
You should know why you’re in business in the first place. Is it just to make a profit? Probably not. Behind every great brand is a story of why they are in business. Find yours. It’s worth its weight in gold.
3. Do You Know What Differentiates Your Brand From Your Competitors?
Many companies are in a price-driven commodity type businesses. Why drive to Walmart when I can go to Target? Why go to Burger King when I can go to McDonald’s? Every brand has something that makes them different than the competition. (hint: don’t say “best service” or “lowest prices”) Your differentiation is your brand essence. Protect it and be true to it.
4. Can You Prove It?
If you can prove those points of how and why you are different, you’ll be better positioned in the eyes of your customers. Perhaps you say you have the best selection of auto parts in the industry, yet customers consistently can’t get the parts they need from you, there’s a disconnect. If you make a claim of distinction around your brand, you better be able to follow through on it.
5. Can You Continue to Prove it?
Big deal, you proved it. Can you keep proving it? If you claim to have the best-trained group of plumbers in Atlanta, then you better keep training them, over and over. If not, your competition will overtake you before you know it and your claim of distinction will become antiquated – and your customers will notice. Make it a point to continue to prove your claim(s) of distinction and stay true to your brand essence.
So, did you pass? Are you ready to embark on the brand development process? Branding your business is a difficult job, but if you’ve asked the right questions, you’ll be well on your way to building a company that is successful in both your P&L and your customers’ eyes.
The marketing world is buzzing these days about “brand” and brand development strategies. In fact, a web search for “brand development” returns almost 3.5 billion results. That’s more than 3,000,000,000 distinct web pages that want to tell you the best way to develop, implement and manage your brand. On the subject of ROI, however, most of those websites are surprisingly quiet. The reason for this is simple. Most of the ways brand development affects your business are subtle and difficult to quantify since they aren’t obvious. It is impossible to point at an increase in repeat business and say for certain if it is because of more effective brand development or because of any number of other reasons. Although difficult to quantify exactly, ROI of your brand development program are numerous.
Three that you may not think of include:
- Increased customer loyalty
- Minimized negative effects of a crisis
- Better marketing and co-branding partners
Increased Brand Loyalty
One benefit of effective brand development is brand loyalty. These means that your customers are more likely to turn into fans. They are more likely to use your products because they are your products rather than for reasons of cost or effectiveness or even utility. For fans, loyalty is the watchword. Increasing customer loyalty through brand development helps immunize your customers against the marketing efforts of your competitors. If they are using your products because they are your products, the competition doesn’t have a chance.
Minimizing the Effects of Crisis
We’ve all seen the devastation an economic crisis has on business, but there are other types of crisis businesses face every day. Shortages on the manufacturing side (operational problem), licensing problems on a new product line (partner problem), or an employee standing in lettuce (people problem) – there is an infinite number of things that can go wrong in any business. The effects of these things can be minimized by nurturing a mature, trusted brand. Customers are much more inclined to wait patiently while problems are resolved rather than fleeing to your competitors when they believe in your brand. It was the companies with well developed brands and customer loyalty that continue to ride out the worst of the recent economic problems.
Attracting Marketing and Co-Branding Partners
Few things are more attractive to potential marketing partners than a strong, well-developed brand. A solid brand tells prospective partners that you understand your customers and it also demonstrates a certain amount of momentum in your market. By working together, advertisers and co-branders hope to ride that momentum in pushing their products through to your established customer base, and, of course, you hope to do the same for their customers. By bringing as much to the table as possible, you ensure the ability to attract the best marketing partners for your company and have the best possible position sitting at the bargaining table. When it comes to working with other companies, solid branding is a clear advantage.
It may be difficult to say precisely how much of your increased revenue is the result of developing your brand, but it can be measured if you realize the less than obvious benefits. From increased customer loyalty to increased partnership opportunities with other businesses, an effective brand development process does provide returns on your investment.
By Brant Kelsey
We were talking to a group of small agency principals recently. We asked how many knew their largest client’s business strategy. Fewer than five of the fifty or so in attendance raised their hands – we weren’t surprised. It seems that both agencies and clients are equally at fault for this ‘separate camps’ mentality. We agency-types get caught up in the creative execution of assignments to promote sales and our clients don’t often look at us as being valued strategic partners. So the important strategic business stuff never leaves corporate – what a waste!
Here’s why: A company’s business strategy will have a far greater chance of success if it is in alignment with the company’s brand strategy. The really great advertisers get together with their really great agencies and make really great brands. So why can’t the smaller agencies and clients get together? Well, in many cases, the client doesn’t have a plan. Or if it’s a larger advertiser, the CEO, President, COO, CFO, VP of Marketing and a bunch of consultants shut themselves in a room and brainstorm a business strategy. Then they pass it on down to marketing for a plan and execution. What a waste of neuron-power. Most agencies can offer incredible insights, even if only adding marketing wisdom to that plan.
“We agency-types get caught up in the creative execution of assignments to promote sales and our clients don’t often look at us as being valued strategic partners.”
Here’s an example of a terrific business strategy that’s perfectly aligned with a brilliant brand strategy:
Early in its development, the BMW brand held a minuscule share of the European luxury car market and an even smaller share of that audience’s mind. Mercedes Benz out-sold BMW 3 to 1. Mercedes established its foothold on the U.S. market by promoting their “European Engineering.” However, if you talked to a BMW designer, they’d tell you that they had far superior engineering than the Mercedes Benz cars.
They suggested that they designed and built cars with much greater responsiveness to the driver’s actions, providing a better sense of the road beneath and offering them greatly enhanced control. Mercedes, according to BMW, had a smoother ride. The tighter feel and enhanced responsiveness of the BMW gave drivers the sense that he or she was in complete control, and that was something no other brand of automobile offered. This handling advantage was greatly appreciated by sports car aficionados and car enthusiasts. Thus, a business strategy was born. “At Bayerische Motoren Werke, we will build highly engineered automobiles and market them to performance-minded enthusiasts.”
This new strategy would be communicated to all of the company’s employees, strategic partners, suppliers, distributors, customers, sales teams and marketing. And at this point, with (BMW’s long-time agency at the time*) Ammirati & Puris involved in every step of the strategy development, a brand strategy was carefully crafted as well, and aligned for the purpose of advancing an overall corporate message: “BMW, the Ultimate Driving Machine.” And it too was delivered to the same employees, strategic partners, suppliers, distributors and customers.
For three decades, BMW’s business strategy and brand strategy alignment have driven the company to the top of the category. Today, BMW outsells Mercedes Benz 3 to 1.
How to get everyone on the same page.
A company’s brand should extend beyond surface level internal and external recognition. It should live within the organization – within every department, from engineering, human resources, manufacturing and finance to business services, customer service, sales, distribution and marketing. The Brand Establishment’s Enculturation™ process is exactly what companies need to achieve complete success with their brand development initiatives.
Too often we see organizations get excited about their new brand identity only to watch the leadership and employees lose sight of the brand promise, fading back into old practices. Then the brand promise gets lost. Through the Enculturation process, companies identify all the ways to better “walk the talk” and get everyone marching to the brand beat.
The first step in launching an Internal Brand Adoption initiative is for the COO and executive leadership from all areas to gain an understanding of the importance of Enculturation and the value it brings to the organization. The executive team also learns the processes that must be hardwired to ensure that the internal brand is sustained.
Since Enculturation is an organization-wide initiative, there is tremendous value in having each department participate in the investment of Internal Brand Adoption, not just human resources or marketing. The process includes a discussion about the organization’s existing internal brand adoption challenges as well as potential growth scenarios. From there, discussions turn toward how the organization can implement a strategic internal brand initiative.
Part of the process is to identify a Brand Champion. This person frequently resides within the marketing area but can come from another area within the organization. Of paramount importance is that the whole organization knows the Brand Champion has the full endorsement of the COO. Once the Brand Champion is identified, we develop the Brand Pillar.
The Brand Pillar, led by the Brand Champion, is a group of key individuals from each company area who have the authority to ensure that the internal brand initiatives that the Brand Pillar adopts are hard-wired and put in place within their areas. Initially, the Brand Pillar meets weekly to develop the Internal Brand Initiatives. Once the initiatives have been launched, the Brand Pillar moves to monthly meetings for the first six months, and then eventually moves to quarterly meetings as they review the brand adoption initiative and make necessary adjustments.
By stepping outside their silos and working together, employees help build the internal processes that ensure everyone within the organization is delivering upon the brand. When employees truly engage with the brand, the results can be powerful!
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The answer is – employee satisfaction. Just ask Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna. While recovering from a near-death neck injury, Mark learned that recovery is a state of mind. “If your mind is in the right place, you can do anything,” he shared during a CBS news interview. Bertolini found healing in yoga and meditation to deal with the pain of his injury, and that inspired him to bring a new mindset to Aetna.
He pointed out that employee engagement is everything in a service economy, so he reimagined a workplace that could improve the health and mindset of his employees. His concept includes fair pay, work-life balance, onsite doctors, exam rooms, massage therapists, healthy food options, nutritious Meals To Go, and a fitness center where employees have permission to exercise any time of the day. Aetna also offers yoga classes and virtual classes in mindfulness like Managing Activities to Prevent Burnout all creating a more compassionate workplace.
“Companies should invest time into having a brand that extends beyond their external recognition- Their brand should be deeply rooted internally as well.
Aetna invests in its people to get them engaged every day, Mark explained. And, since 60% of Aetna’s operating infrastructure is people, why not invest in them? This type of investment is okay with investors too because it not only affects the bottom line, it impacts the sustainability of the business over time.
As a result of Bertolini’s ideas, Aetna employees reported a 28% decrease in stress levels and 20% improvement in sleep quality. Employees also claim that this employee-focused way of doing business has saved marriages, and even lives. A happier workplace is a more productive workplace, so imagine the effect of 50,000 employees being more productive and inspired. That might explain the steady rise in Aetna’s stock price over the past five years from $29.16 per share (May 2010) to $110.08 per share (May 2015).
Just like all good brands, Aetna is guided by principles that provide clarity and focus:
Integrity – Do the right thing for the right reason.
Excellence – We strive to deliver the highest quality and value possible through simple, easy and relevant solutions.
Caring – We listen to and respect our customers and each other so we can act with insight, understanding and compassion.
Inspiration – We inspire each other to explore ideas that can make the world a better place.
As a Certified Brand Strategist through The Brand Establishment, I help brands identify ways to engage employees so they can embrace the brand as it relates to job function and the greater good. While many organizations have guiding principles, Aetna got it right by aligning its business and brand and making the commitment to help its employees live the brand every day. And that creates one big, happy family!
Michelle Taglialatela is Tag’s brand strategist, one of 35 nationally who is certified by The Brand Establishment.
Michelle applies Tag’s proprietary process to create one-of-a-kind brand strategies that transform cultures and improve the bottom line. Tag has brand depth rivaled by few; and has been working with clients for more than a decade helping them exceed their objectives and stand out!